Connie searched the playground, the neighbors and the sand pile behind the back shed. Her hand went to her throat to ease the pain that seemed to creep up from her hammering heart. Moisture blurred her vision.
“Ethan!” Connie’s throat grew tight. She had no choice but to call the social worker who had assigned Ethan to Connie and her husband, Carl, a few weeks earlier.
“Ethan is missing,” she blurted out before Rebecca could finish her greeting. “I’ve looked everywhere.” Connie found herself pacing. Oh Lord, where is he? Please keep him safe.
“Calm down, Connie. He’s probably run away,” Rebecca said.
Connie stood still. “Why would he do that?”
“You tell me. We get a lot of foster kids who run away. Ethan has been in the system a long time, and with numerous foster families. He’s run away before.” She sighed. “I admit, I thought he was happy with you and Carl, but it’s hard to tell with these 'damaged' kids.”
Thinking more clearly, Connie contemplated the past few weeks. “He’s a bright little boy. I thought he was settling in.” She paused. “Carl offered to take Ethan fishing when he returns from the office. He needed a file to work on over the weekend.”
“Okay, I’ll call the local police and then come round. Just stay calm.”
Carl came in just as Connie hung up the phone. “Look who I found in the car under a blanket.”
“Ethan, you scared me half to death.” She placed her hand over her mouth and sat down at the table.
Ethan hung his head. “I was going to run away when Carl got to town but I fell asleep.”
“Why would you want to run away?” Connie dared to ask.
“I got scared. When the Baker’s took me fishing they got mad at me because I broke their new rod. They beat me with it and told me I was selfish.”
Carl sat beside Connie and drew Ethan close. “You’ll never be beaten here, I promise.”
“Even if I wet my bed? Mrs. Beasley wiped my face with the sheets and then made me wash them.”
Connie gasped. “There’s no excuse for bad behavior by any adult.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “You haven’t wet your bed since you’ve been here. Do you think there’s a reason for that?”
“I…I…don’t know,” Ethan shrugged. “I’m not scared here.”
Carl took the boy’s hand. “We don’t have to go fishing today. What kind of things do you like to do?”
Ethan tilted his head and bit his lower lip. He shrugged again.
“Do you like going to the movies?” Connie encouraged.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been. I watched cartoons sometimes at the Webster’s. The other families didn’t let me watch TV.”
“Football?” Carl asked.
“The beach?” Connie added.
Ethan began to whimper. “I…I…haven’t been anywhere much—just school and your playground.” A lone tear rolled down his face. “I like your playground.” He wiped the tear away. “Can I go there again?”
Connie looked at Carl for a long moment. She pulled Ethan onto her lap. He was short for a seven-year-old but it was his frail body and lightness that surprised her. Ethan stiffened but soon relaxed in Connie’s cuddle. She kissed his cheek. “We can go to the park together. How about a picnic of burgers and soda?” She released her embrace. A tear stained face looked back at her.
“What’s a pic-nic?”
Carl sighed deeply. His sad eyes met Connie’s. “There’s a lot we can do. I think a picnic lunch at the playground is the perfect place to begin.”
A knock sounded at the front door. “Rebecca. I forgot all about her.”
Carl let Rebecca in and explained the situation.
Ethan’s lip trembled. He looked up at Connie. “Will I have to go to another foster family?”
“No sweetie,” Rebecca answered for Connie. “But you need to talk to Carl and Connie if you’re unsure of anything.
“Connie and Carl won’t beat me.” It was a statement rather than a question.
Rebecca knelt down beside Ethan as he slid of Connie’s lap. “No, Ethan. This family is…different.”
Ethan looked up at Carl then to Connie, then back to Rebecca. “Why are they different?”
“Well firstly,” Carl began. “We have a special friend that we plan to introduce you to as we grow to know each other. We also hope to adopt you…if that’s okay.”
The corners of Ethan’s mouth lifted.
“Really? Yes, please!”
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